DRAFT

Seminar on History and Philosophy of Science

Wednesday, May 4, 2016
4:00pm to 5:00pm
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Dabney Hall 110 (Treasure Room)
Geometrical Understanding in Dirac's Discovery of his Electron Equation
Thomas Pashby, Provost’s Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities, School of Philosophy, USC,

Abstract

In the crucial published paper of 1928, Dirac's derivation of the relativistic electron equation that bears his name is presented as algebraic trick, and accordingly his contemporaries thought of him as an arch algebraist.  However, Dirac had an early education in 19th century non-Euclidean geometry through learning projective geometry as a mathematics student in Bristol.  He later told how this gave him the key to an intuitive and visual understanding of the Lorentz transformations, as Felix Klein had recommended in 1910.  Newly uncovered manuscript sources reveal that Dirac's uncertain path towards his breakthrough of late 1927 was influenced by geometrical thinking, and show that he likely possessed a geometrical understanding of the Dirac spinor long before van der Waerden and Veblen.

For more information, please contact Fran Tise by phone at 626-395-3609 or by email at ftise@hss.caltech.edu.